Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Frank the Rat - Days 4 thru 6

Sunday February 14
A relatively easy day of travel today, leaving Fitzgerald and heading north towards Madison. Before leaving, we check out a couple of the local Southern buffet restaurants serving up Sunday brunch. Locals are decked out in their Sunday best outside of Nabila's Garden Restaurant, and we go inside and look around. It's Valentine's Day, and the large room is boisterous and filled with red: ladies' dresses, tablecloths, and a swaying forest of helium balloon hearts. Our stomachs crave a simple egg breakfast, so we end up at the local Huddle House, but it's great to soak up the festive and uniquely Southern atmosphere.

Happily, our route takes us off the interstate for the day. We're struck by the beauty of some of the towns along the way, despite the fact that many of the 19th century buildings are dilapidated at best and often completely shuttered. We wonder if these downtowns were among those killed off by Walmart and other big box chain stores moving in and sucking the life out of local businesses.

Get in to Madison in mid afternoon. It's still chilly, with little patches of snow (and former snowmen) on the shady side of Main Street, which is lined with immaculate 19th century architecture.

Monday February 15

The Madison visitor's center is housed in a beautiful old firehouse, and Courtney and I decide to take a walking tour of the historic district, the largest in the state of Georgia. The town is filled with gorgeous pre-Civil War and Victorian structures. One story goes that, during the Civil War, General Sherman's army spared Madison because it was the home of pro-Union Senator Joshua Hill.

While exploring 19th century gravestones, I get a friendly call from Patricia DuBose at the Madison Morgan Cultural Center, inviting us to join members of the local book club, meeting at the charming Dog Ear Books. This month, they looked for a book with similar themes to Frank the Rat and settled on Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. Everyone there is kind and welcoming - members range in age from 20's to 60's and it's inspiring to join in on their engaging discussion of film and literature.

At the Cultural Center, housed in a majestic red brick former schoolhouse built in 1895, Executive Director Judy Barber warmly welcomes us and shows us into the lovely all wood auditorium. The crowd starts to gather well before show-time, and it's clear we're going to have our best crowd of the Tour. More young people than earlier screenings too, which is nice to see.

The Cultural Center did a wonderful job promoting our screening, and local film critic Steve W. Schaefer has been championing Frank the Rat in local newspapers. Steve's introduction is passionately partisan - exactly what you want to hear as a filmmaker! In fact, I'd love to figure out a way to hire Steve to handle publicity for us in the future. :-)

The screening goes well (you can sense when the audience is with you) and the wide-ranging Q and A that follows is stimulating and fun. I'm happy to hear praise for the work of our cinematographer, production designer and composer, as well as for the actors. Plenty of folks stay for the reception afterwards, and the feedback across the board is generous, well informed, and very gratifying. All in all, we couldn't have asked for a better screening experience.

Tuesday February 16

We start the day at Cracker Barrel where Marcus, a Madison professional and aspiring filmmaker, takes us out to breakfast with his son. He's a dynamic and interesting guy, and our conversation ranges from 19th century construction to national politics to film business plans. We hope to stay in touch.

An easy drive gets us into Columbus, Georgia by late afternoon. We drive to the Uptown historic district, running along the Chattahoochee River. At the time of the Civil War, Columbus was one of the most important industrial centers in the South. Massive old mill buildings line the river bank and most if not all have been converted to condos and business space.

We have an early supper at Country's BBQ in Uptown, housed in a '50's streamline design Greyhound bus station. Unique setting + good food = memorable meal. We walk past the huge RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, where a big electronic sign advertises our screening tomorrow night.